Flashback to 1994, when goaltender Marty Turco arrived at Michigan as a promising prospect, recently drafted by the Dallas Stars in the fifth round of the NHL Entry Draft.
Turco, arguably one of Michigan’s greatest netminders, started nearly every game for Michigan coach Red Berenson in his four years in Ann Arbor, regardless of whether he had a rough showing the night before. The only exception was injury or sickness, of course, in which case the future NHL All-Star sat out.
The same is true of his successor, Al Montoya, for the next four years. And once Shawn Hunwick took over as starter in 2011 after The Big Chill, he started just about every night, too.
Berenson has always been a one-goalie coach. However, this year he hasn’t had an opportunity to start one goaltender consistently. And he still doesn’t have a plan to stick with one goaltender after being swept by No. 9 Western Michigan.
“It’s still to be determined,” Berenson said. “That starting job is wide open.”
After junior goaltender Adam Janecyk allowed eight goals in two games — Friday’s 3-2 loss and Saturday’s 5-1 defeat — the Wolverines are once again searching for someone to step up when the offense doesn’t. Janecyk has started five consecutive games, yet he has failed to benefit from the consistent playing time.
It’s difficult to pinpoint where goaltending has fallen short this year. It’s possible that the defense, which has never been healthy all at once, has not done its share of clearing the puck or picking up the open man.
But even in the years of Turco, Montoya and even Hunwick, the defense still had its lapses, yet each one managed to find a way to succeed. Turco — who, granted, is a rarity in the position — holds an NCAA record for career wins and Montoya holds the Michigan record for shutouts in a season.
While Saturday gave freshman goaltender Jared Rutledge — who Berenson adamantly said would be the frontrunner for the job at the end of last season — his first regular-season action of 2013, it has made little difference. In just eight games this season, five of which he started in, Rutledge has a 4.33 goals-against average and a .849 save percentage.
“For every goal scored there are two or three defensive breakdowns,” Berenson said. “Look what we do when Western scored … these are stoppable plays — our goalie, our defensemen, our forwards.
“There are just too many unearned goals against, and that means the goalie and the defensemen both.”
In Kalamazoo, the Wolverines were caught chasing Bronco forwards on breakaways multiple times, leaving Janecyk to make the save, but no one to clear the puck.
“I think we did a good job for the most part,” said senior defenseman Lee Moffie of the weekend’s performance. “We didn’t let up that many scoring opportunities, but when we did they were just grade-A.
“It’s something we have to work on. Breakaways, defensive-zone coverage, leaving guys open.”
Freshman goaltender Stave Racine has also seen his fair share of action this season. But Berenson admitted Monday that his fourth-string goalie, redshirt sophomore Luke Dwyer, had he been healthy, would have been considered for playing time this year. Dwyer has now been cleared for contact, but it’s still unlikely he’ll see action.
“We don’t really think it’s a safe spot,” Janecyk said of the starting position. “You just have to try and do your best in practice and see what happens.”
But Berenson and the Michigan coaching staff had their No. 1 goalie — their prodigious replacement to Hunwick — all lined up before last season. John Gibson, a member of the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League and U.S. junior gold-medal team, had committed to filling the figurative big shoes left by Hunwick.
But Gibson opted to play in the OHL and left Berenson without a solid option for this season. So when asked about whether he thinks about what the Anaheim Ducks prospect could have done for the program, the veteran coach was left smiling and nodding.
“Oh yeah,” Berenson said. “No question.”
Nonetheless, the Wolverines must move forward with what they have. And there are certainly areas that must be improved soon to secure a decent position in the CCHA playoffs.
There have been signs that Michigan can take the pressure off of its goalie. In the first period of both games over the weekend, the Wolverines forecheck performed well, keeping the pressure away from the crease. Going forward, Michigan looks to continue to attack, limiting the action in its defensive zone.
Berenson and Moffie also talked about making better passes to limit turnovers. The issue of untimely turnovers has been a trend for much longer than the recent series, though, and continues to be an emphasis in practice and on film.
Fast forward to Friday when the Wolverines host in-state rival Michigan State. There’s still no front-runner in net.